SOMETIMES YOU JUST want to go where everyone knows your name.
That’s exactly the atmosphere you’ll find at Dominic’s Wood Fired in Downtown Ball Ground.
Owner Dominic Napolitano jokes that he’s been in the restaurant business since he was 8 years old. Growing up among uncles and brothers who operated restaurants from New York to Florida, Napolitano was practically born into the industry, so it was a natural path to take when he relocated from New York to North Georgia nearly 10 years ago. At the time, food trucks were just beginning to gain speed. He liked the concept but wanted to put his own spin on it.
“I didn’t want to be a food truck—I wanted to be a restaurant on wheels,” Napolitano said. The distinction? Whereas most food trucks focused on quick turnover of customers, Napolitano wanted to take the time to get to know his customers and infuse each transaction with attention and care.
But perhaps the most unique aspect of his approach is his cooking method. There are no gas or propane grills in Dominic’s food trucks, no deep fryers; instead, every single menu item is prepared in a wood-fired brick oven, from pizzas and burgers to rib-eye steaks and tacos and even the water used to boil pasta. For Napolitano, this is a nostalgic way to prepare food.
“When I created the menu, I wanted to go back to a time when fire was the only way to cook,” he said.
Launching as Dominic’s NY Pizza Truck, the mobile business began selling food at festivals and catering events, and eventually landed permanent weekly spots at Truck & Tap in Woodstock and Glover Park Brewery in Marietta, both of which host rotating schedules of food trucks to feed their patrons. Today, the restaurant operates as Dominic’s Wood Fired, but continues to pay homage to its New York roots with pizzas named after the Big Apple’s boroughs—the meat-lover’s Staten Island, for instance, or the Manhattan, piled high with pepperoni.
BRICKS AND MORTAR
Dominic’s currently operates five food trucks and counting, with the most significant addition being the permanent set-up in Downtown Ball Ground outside the old general store. Napolitano and his wife had been toying with the idea of a designated physical location for years
“Within minutes of [finding out the space was available] we knew this was it,” he said. The couple renovated the former store into a dining room, parked two trucks out front, and opened for business in July 2019.
The restaurant now fires up customer favorites for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday, with a rotating menu of specials. You’ll find wood-fired tacos filled with brisket, chicken or beef on Wednesdays and Thursdays, barbecue on Fridays, ribeye on Saturdays and calzones on Sundays, with their signature wood-fired pizzas, burgers and wings available every business day.
The second truck is devoted to organic ice cream and sorbet, made from scratch with no artificial ingredients in flavors like mint chocolate chip and, this season, pumpkin pie. Customers order at the truck and then find a table inside or on the back porch, or get their food to go. The dining room is decked out in vintage décor to create the carefree experience of days gone by, and there’s also a public picnic area just down the block along Main Street.
Though there’s certainly an emphasis on food quality with top-notch ingredients from Wilkes Meat Market in Cumming, the top priority at Dominic’s is customer service. “We’re not going to be flawless on every pizza, every burger, every steak,” Napolitano said. “It’s just impossible. But customer service has to be flawless.”
Napolitano may not be from the South but he delivers Southern hospitality in spades. When he’s not cooking himself, you’ll find him chatting with patrons, greeting repeat customers by name, introducing himself to new visitors, checking on meals, and offering replacements or free ice cream if someone isn’t entirely satisfied.
“You’ve got to appreciate the people who are paying,” he said, and in turn, his customers come to appreciate his restaurant. “I believe it’s a shared relationship.”
And Napolitano’s commitment to the community goes beyond building rapport with his customers; this year, he launched Dominic’s Mission, a nonprofit that supports local organizations like MUST Ministries and seeks to alleviate the financial burden many families are feeling during the pandemic by providing free food for kids.
“I come from an area where we take care of our neighborhood,” he said. “I may be an outsider [in Ball Ground], but I want to be a part of this neighborhood. I want to do my part to help people survive.”
DOMINIC’S WOOD FIRED
340 Gilmer Ferry Road